Daily Archives: April 3, 2014

catamount

You may not know this word; it’s not used so much these days. So, after making a pun involving cats and/or mountains, you may want to compare it to other words that seem similar. Could it be a collision of paramount and cataclysm? Or tantamount and catapult? You may see the cata and think, “Ah, the Greek cata ‘down’ root – as in catastrophe, ‘downstroke’. So add that to the ending of paramount and you get something tantamount to a fall to the catacombs.”

Well. It depends on how you look at it. Or on how it looks at you before you can look at it. If you’re standing by a cataract in the mountains and a catamount creeps up and catapults itself in your direction, you may well end up in the catacombs, or something tantamount. You see, this word’s form has more to do with cat-o’-nine-tails and Jack-o’-lantern and cats and mountains.

Indeed, it’s hard to be pleased with yourself for making a pun when the pun is actually the etymology and meaning. So much for cat and mountain jokes: this word comes from catamountain, which comes from cat-o’-mountain, as in cat of the mountain. Catamountain has been applied to leopards, panthers, and ocelots; the shorter catamount has come to be mainly a term for cougars (I mean mountain lions, not… never mind).

So the word sounds so classical, and yet it’s so homey… if you ignore the fact that cat and mount both come to us, lightly changed, from Latin. Just like a catamount, or cougar, is also a puma, is also a panther. Sometimes these things just creep up on you.